MotoGP to BT Sport in 2014 (IndyCar & NASCAR too)

UK TV coverage of MotoGP will be switching to the new BT Sport channels from the 2014 season. IndyCar will also be on those channels later this season. I’ll focus on MotoGP as that is by far the bigger series in terms of fans and ratings.

Err, What?

BT Sport is a new venture from the telecoms company after it bought ESPN UK & Ireland, which itself grew out of the ashes of Setanta Sports. The line-up will be BT Sport 1 and BT Sport 2 – each with HD and SD simulcasts – and the existing ESPN channel will be retained, but it’ll be run by BT instead of ESPN. The existing ESPN Classic and ESPN America will be discontinued. MotorsTV has moved on the Sky EPG to make way.

Is this a good thing? The elephant in the room is Sky Sports, the dominant player in subscription-TV sports. If Setanta nor the mighty ESPN could make it work against Sky, could BT, despite little experience operating linear TV? BT already offer an on-demand service via IPTV (it beat Sky to that by a couple of years), could that make the difference?

Given Thursday’s announcements they are certainly giving it a damn good try!

No Free-To-Air MotoGP

Now for the bad news for many – no more BBC or Eurosport MotoGP coverage.

The free-to0-air* BBC2 airs all races live, and Moto2 and Moto3 races, and MotoGP qualifying, are live online and on the red button.

* excluding the Licence Fee but since everyone has to pay it anyway it is moot.

British Eurosport – but I believe not many other branches of Eurosport across the continent – air all sessions live for all 3 classes apart from the MotoGP race, which is delayed to give BBC2 the priority. Eurosport only requires a £5 extra fee on Sky (along with a whole host of other channels in the Entertainment Extra pack), and is on a fairly reasonable tier on Virgin Media cable TV, I think? It also has a very affordable web and app presence costing only £2.99/mth which is how I watch it.

The sharing agreement was set up in 2009 specifically to boost ratings by giving priority to the more widely available BBC2. It seems priorities have changed at Dorna!

As of now the only UK TV coverage is exclusive to BT. Sadly this means, unless a highlights deal is announced, MotoGP will no longer be available on free-to-air to the whole population.

This is a huge loss for MotoGP’s UK fans. I am sure Dorna took this option for their own reasons, possibly financial. The BT deal will inevitably result in far lower viewing figures. BBC2 gets about 1 million people per race, this is sometimes higher than F1 races on Sky! BT would be doing extremely well to reach 20% of that and it might be more like 10%.

There are some people who will get it free-to-air, effectively. More on that in a minute.

What MotoGP Will They Air?

Everything. All sessions and races will be covered live. Tthey’ll be covered live from site and from a London studio, perhaps they’ll send one or two pit reporters (and crew) and keep the presenting team at home? That’s a backwards step, the interaction you get from Matt Roberts, and previously Suzi Perry, is very much worth the investment. Talking heads sitting in a remote studio is not interesting to me.

What is interesting is the promise of extra programming between races, they’ve not given specifics but I imagine that might include profiles of legends of the sport, insights into GP history, a tour of a team HQ.

How.. And How Much?

First things first – the hook:  If you have BT Broadband you will be able to get BT Sport’s channels as a free extra. I’m a BT Broadband subscriber so this makes me quite happy! Effectively MotoGP remains ‘free-to-air’ if you are already with BT.

There are those who complain it isn’t “free” but that is only valid if you are now with a competitor at a lower rate – you’ll end up paying more by switching. That’s fair enough. For those of us already paying BT’s higher rates, this offer makes those prices better value. I’m paying them anyway so anything extra is a bonus. Ok it isn’t ‘free’, it is a new feature that makes my higher cost more bearable. Believe me I was seriously considering switching away at the end of my contract and this deal will heavily influence my decision.

Don’t have BT Broadband? A subscription costs £12 per month or £15 for HD but at the moment you can only get it on Sky.

Here are the four options. They say three but there are four, I consider the web player to be separate from the app. There’s a possible fifth.

Option 1)  Sky. If you have Sky you can ring up BT and give them your viewing card number. You DO NOT have to be an existing BT customer – the difference is only in cost. If you are with BTB you’ll get Sport free, if you’re not you’ll be charged £12 or £15. Seemingly you can only get it direct from BT (don’t call Sky), I bet this is to check you’re a broadband customer which Sky wouldn’t know.

Option 2) BT TV. BT have a couple of TV options of their own. You’ll need their broadband to get either.

They want you to get YouView but that requires some hoops to be jumped: You need to have BT Infinity (“superfast broadband” as they call it), their fibre-optic system which is slowly rolling out across the country.

If like many people you currently can’t get Infinity you can have BT Vision instead. For that you will need normal BT Broadband, or ADSL as most of us may know it. There appear to be no other restrictions on getting Vision. (Annoyingly there’s also a Vision-branded section on YouView – don’t confuse the two).

BT Sport will be delivered by encrypted Freeview channel needing a viewing card in exactly the same way ESPN is currently, but it’ll be the SD channels only and there’s a £10 fee for the card.

Update – more details here.

Both systems are focused on ‘On Demand’ services so I hope BT Sport content will appear there for free.

Option 3) Web Player. Seems to be BT subs only. Go to btsport.com and login with a MyBT username (the one you use to look bills). A big concern here is the use of unreliable Microsoft Silverlight which is my main bugbear with ITV Player.

Option 4) App for tablet or smartphone again needing a BT login.

I hope options 3 and 4 become available to non-subscribers. If BT are serious about bringing sport to the masses at lower rates than Sky, they would surely allow people to subscribe only to the web player and/or the app.

Potential Option 5) Virgin Media cable TV. No deal has been agreed right now but you can bet they are working on it.

Away from BT, another option for fans is the VideoPass on MotoGP.com – real diehards only though, a standard pass costs £85 per year or £21/month! A ‘MultiScreen’ pass is £30/mth.

Existing ESPN subscriber? I’m pretty sure I saw that your subscription will only run until ESPN changes hands at the end of July. If that means you have unused months I suggest you ask ESPN for a refund.

The Takeaway

Depends on what you have already.

++ for anybody with BT broadband and a Sky dish or YouView. Just ring BT and get all this stuff for free. If you currently pay for ESPN you’ll save £10-15 per month.

+ for anybody with BT broadband but no Sky dish. You (and I) will get the web player and the app for no extra fee. Most of us are perfectly used to watching BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD or Eurosport Player so this is a very good thing for us.

~ for people with Sky but not BT. £12-£15 isn’t going to break the bank if you only want BT Sport, but if you want Sky Sports too it’ll soon mount up. If you pay for Sky Sports and ESPN right now nothing will really change, a sport or two will have moved from one place to another as they do every year.

– for those who can and would pay for BT and/or Sky but are currently with other providers – switching is a hassle.

— if you can only afford one set of premium sports channels, do you choose Sky for F1, or BT for MotoGP & IndyCar? It’ll fall on your preference of racing and other sports.

— for anybody without BT or Sky and are unwilling or unable to switch for whatever reason. Cost is likely the main reason as both BT and Sky are expensive. There are a lot of people who just can’t afford it.

MotoGP’s ratings are going to drop substantially in 2014. ESPN’s ratings at the moment are dire and that will not change for a while. Even Sky Sports, the market leader in subscription sport, usually has poor ratings compared to Free-To-Air.

The increase in shoulder programming is a good thing – will anybody watch it?

I applaud BT for not only allowing their current customers access for no further fee – remember how often people complain the sweet deals are only for new customers – and also for keeping the monthly cost at a minimal level for non-broadband customers.

On a Personal Level

I have BT Broadband with BT Vision TV – unfortunately the Freeview part is broken so I can’t get ESPN, but even if the box worked I live in a transmission blackspot – if you pick up a main transmitter you see all Freeview channels but if you use a local repeater transmitter you only see half of them. Guess where I live! I must get an engineer to move the aerial.

I should be able to see a lot On Demand for free with Vision which is good. Anything I want live I can see on my PC or iPad for no extra charge, also brilliant.

Alternatives? I’m in a rented property so I can’t have a Sky dish – I might be allowed at this address but who’s to say how long I’ll be here and if my next landlord would let me? I also live well outside Virgin’s cabled area. These are the reasons I went for BTV in the first place.

Is this deal any good for you? Let me know! It certainly feels better than the Sky F1 deal but is that because I’m now used to that idea, is it because I know I’m getting availability for no extra cost?

Other Racing

IndyCar – BT seem to have taken over ESPN’s current IndyCar deal right off the bat, from channel launch this August. Good news. IndyCar fans were faced with having no coverage at all so it is a very different position to MotoGP which is reducing viewers. I’m *VERY* happy to finally be able to watch one of my favourite series completely legally for the first time since 2002!

NASCAR – There has been mention of NASCAR which I presume to be the 1-hour highlights show of the Sprint Cup. Time will tell. If so it might even mean I’ll stay with Cup for a season for the first time.

At the moment that seems it for motorsport but anything could change between now and the 2014 season.

Other Sport

Football, football, and more football: English Premier League, Scottish Premier League, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League, Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, MLS, English Women’s League.
English Premiership Rugby. WTA tennis. Red Bull ‘extreme sports’ (interestingly including Red Bull Crashed Ice!). UFC. And these from the head of digital production: “Our confirmed list of US sports: college basketball, Indy car, NASCAR, college football, MLB, Red Bull, MLS.”

It seems like a very decent line-up if you like those sorts of things. I’m not too into the different types of football so I wouldn’t pay for the channels, but since they are free-to-me I might dip into a few things to see if I like them!

Advertisements

Not Simply Going Around In Circles

On Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron visited the McLaren Group in Woking to launch the new McLaren Production Centre, where the McLaren MP4-12C sportscar will be constructed. I’m not one for PR stunts and especially not political PR stunts, but this one is really worth looking at.

The speeches from both Cameron and Ron Dennis, whilst also filled with the usual political guff we can largely ignore for the purposes of a racing blog, served as a timely reminder that motorsport solutions developed within the normally insular world of racing can be developed into real world applications.

As always the excellent Joe Saward was on the case, driving over from France  especially for the event, and provides the transcripts of both the McLaren CEO and the follow-up speech from the PM. Also see this other post.

Do read the full text at Joe’s site if you have the time. Here are some interesting excerpts about these technologies which caught my eye, some of which we knew about before but are worth revisiting. There’s also a fair amount of crowing which I’m not really a fan of, but at least with stats like these it is justifiable.

“McLaren [..] has won 20 Formula 1 world championships and 175 Formula 1 races – a total which equates to one in every four races that we’ve contested since 1966. We’ve also won the famous Indianapolis 500 race three times and the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours race at our first attempt.”
Ron Dennis

That’s astonishing. I’ll reiterate that because it is amazing to me. A quarter of all F1 races they’ve entered since 1966, they’ve won.

“[In 2012] McLaren Electronic Systems will be in a unique position. Because every single car in the world’s three premier motor racing series – in other words every single car in Formula 1, every single car in the IndyCar series and every single car in the most popular and successful racing series in the United States, NASCAR – will all be using engine control units made here in Woking.”
Ron Dennis

I’d include the World Endurance Championship as a premier world motorsport series but I’ll let him off as that’s new, and 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. This is quite the acheivement.

“The British cyclist Mark Cavendish, who’s here today, became a world champion this year on a Specialized road bike that was developed by McLaren Applied Technologies.”
Ron Dennis

I find this to be very cool. This isn’t the first F1-developed racing bike because in the 90s Chris Boardman rode one developed by the original Team Lotus. It is nice to see others following on with that work.

We’re working with the British Olympic Association on a number of sports and a number of British Olympians will therefore benefit from McLaren Applied Technologies during London 2012.
Ron Dennis

We’re gonna win medals, don’t you forget it.

It’s engineering so groundbreaking that when space scientists are looking for ideas they come to the brains of Formula 1. You remember Beagle 2? It was cased in a lightweight plastic first developed for Formula 1 exhaust systems.
David Cameron

You heard that right: space engineers come to F1 for ideas. This blows my tiny little mind.

Great Ormond Street [Children’s Hospital] saw how efficiently car wheels were changed in the pits so they worked with Formula 1 experts to streamline the transfer of patients into intensive care.
David Cameron

This isn’t so much about technology as about processes, this is about medical personnel learning from pit crews, the way in the pits the mechanics are timed to tenths of a second just to get that pitstop right. Everyone has to be positioned in the right place at exactly the right time – much like they do in intensive care. Put the right person in the right place at the right time and lives can be saved.

There are plenty of other examples both in these speeches and by looking around the web, and if you want to read about apprenticeships and schemes to help young engineers do go and read the full speeches. I have a lot to things to be critical about with the current political administration (and I do mean a lot of things), but science and engineering funding is not one of them.

In closing, I never used to be a fan of McLaren as a Formula 1 team and to this day they do make it hard sometimes, however these days I like them enough to own a couple of bright red ‘Victory Shirts’.

When they start expanding into different areas like this and using their knowledge for the better good (making a nice profit along the way – and why not?), it is difficult not to admire them for it. And they’ve re-entered sportscar racing with their shiny new MP4-12C which looks the business in GT3 race trim – almost good as the Audi R8 LMS!
The same applies to teams – or ‘businesses’, as the word ‘teams’ is a hangover from simpler times – such as WilliamsF1 who are doing similar work on non-F1 projects.

People say McLaren are grey, faceless and boring. Do you still think that now? I certainly don’t.

So there you go, motor racing isn’t just about cars following each other around in circles for a few hours every other Sunday.

My Blog Swap Post – Pruning the Feeder Series

As part of the current round of the Blogger Swap Shop, I have written about the structure – or lack of it – of the European junior series. Given how often I complain on Twitter and elsewhere about the proliferation of series, you might be surprised to find I leap to the defence of many of them.

Check out my conclusions and suggestions at The Formula 1 & Motorsports Archive.

While you are there you really should read Leigh’s Q&A with Justin Wilson as well, its good stuff in which Justin is an actual human, there’s little of the usual PR stuff drivers frequently trot out.

IndyCar – A New Hope

Wednesday evening saw the announcement of the car concept for the next era of the IZOD IndyCar Series starting in 2012, as decided after much deliberation by the ‘ICONIC’ committee.

Wednesday evening saw the announcement of the car concept for the next era of the IZOD IndyCar Series starting in 2012, as decided after much deliberation by the ‘ICONIC’ committee. This was a chassis announcement, engines were briefly discussed but they were not the focus of this decision.

The Committee

The qualifications of the committee seem to me to be unquestionable.

  • Gil de Ferran  – Indy 500 winner, IndyCar and (former ALMS) team owner, former sporting director of Honda F1;
  • Tony Cotman – among many other things the man responsible for the Panoz DP01 project at Champ Car, also the chief steward of Indy Lights I believe;
  • Brian Barnhart – President of Competition at IndyCar;
  • Tony Purnell – founder of Pi Research, formerly ran Jaguar F1 and Ford’s Premier Performance Division;
  • Neil Ressler – former Chief Technical Officer at Ford Motor Company;
  • Eddie Gossage – President of Texas Motor Speedway;
  • Rick Long – Speedway Engine Development;
  • and of course the new superstar CEO of IndyCar, Randy Bernard.

It was chaired by retired General Bill Looney, apparently he was responsible for a major engineering project in the US Air Force.

I can’t think of a better driver to consult than Gil de Ferran, he’s won races in the current cars and the CART Lolas, and has management experience in three major championships. Cotman was the last man to bring in a new car to a budget in North American Open Wheel racing and he and his group learned a lot, it is good to see that knowledge being called upon. Purnell and Ressler have a close working relationship from their time with Ford and Jaguar. Gossage is perhaps the most creative track owner/promoter in the series at the moment.
Continue reading “IndyCar – A New Hope”

IZOD IndyCar Series

Congratulations to the Indy Racing League for securing a new sponsor for the IndyCar Series, which will henceforth be known as the IZOD IndyCar Series.

From all reports IZOD sound like a fantastic partner to work with, and not just reports from yesterday’s announcement but also from during this season where they were a personal sponsor for Ryan Hunter-Reay. I like the attitude and marketing style they appear to bring to the series. I say ‘appear’ because living here in the UK I had never heard of them before they came to the IRL.

The announcement was webcast live last night, unfortunately the usual gremlins crept in and the feed was very quiet at first, then lost sound before dying completely. This is not unusual for IndyCar.com live streams, either pressers or races, and Allen makes a fantastic suggestion on how to fix it – the IRL team have some really good ideas but their tech and implementation don’t seem to ever catch up, so imagine mixing those two groups of people.

So yeah, good news for the series which is finally starting to heal some of the old wounds of the past. First the reunion, now the sponsor, next.. the car?

Some have attempted to spin this as Tony George doing good. Ha. No. He is the cause of the mess we are only just crawling out of. We haven’t quite got to the ‘standing up and dusting ourselves down’ bit yet, but we will.

Anyway, good to have some positive news after what has been a bit of a negative week for the rest of motorsport.

Presumably this means the series acronym will now be IICS – for those not following closely, i.e. most reading this I presume, over the last 18 months or so they’ve been redefining ‘IRL’ to refer to the sanctioning body rather than the championship, so the series has sort of started to be called the ICS, for IndyCar Series. So we now have IRL IICS. Not catchy.. needs work.

Jeff Olson has a good piece over on AUTOSPORT.

EDIT – IndyCar.com has a nice landing page explaining it all, though unfortunately the main site underneath is still a mess and has auto-run video (it is video of the announcement though, so check it out).

Taking stock

Okay, let’s take stock and see where we are. I don’t mean to be downbeat about all of the crappy news we’ve had over the last six weeks, but I do think it prudent to give a summary of what has changed since the end of the 2008 racing season.

Honda out of F1. Big news for all concerned. Since last week, Honda has claimed they have 3 potential buyers lined up. I’m not sure how likely that is. I hope someone does buy the team and continue, even if they have to make swingeing cuts to survive. If nobody buys it we’re down to 18 cars and dangerously close to the other teams having to field a third car per Bernie’s contracts. Team orders? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Audi out of ALMS and LMS. I’d half-suspected they’d only do the LMS for the one year, the bigger surprise to me is dropping the ALMS almost entirely apart from Sebring. Instead they choose to take a new car to Sebring and Le Mans (and I bet they show up at Petit as well). Methinks Peugeot will win Le Mans.

AGR out of Acura/ALMS and into A1GP. I’m sure if they jumped or if they were pushed, either way you have to think running the A1 car is a significant cost-saving over developing a prototype sportscar – I’m assuming they were helping develop it.

Penske out of ALMS, and seemingly no Porsches at all in P2 in America OR Europe. Weird. In the US someone needs to run a customer car to go against Acura, and in Europe there are are easy wins going begging.

– I was going to mention GT1 collapsing globally, but I think that was happening anyway.

SEAT out of BTCC. This was an announcement a couple of months back. SEAT are out of British Touring Cars, although they seem to be continuing in World Touring. The claim at the time was SEAT UK had met its marketing expectations and had reached the end of the programme. Now we’ve had all these other announcements, I’m not so sure that’s true.

– If any of the US carmakers go under (particularly GM) then it will knock on to racing activities somewhere or other, especially NASCAR but all over the world as well in Aussie V8s (Holden), WTCC (Chevrolet), BTCC (Vauxhall), and who knows where else.

– Don’t forget Super Aguri’s collapse earlier in the year.

There will have been more I’ve missed here (let me know in the comments), and more will unfortunately follow I’m sure.

One thing is very clear. 2009 is going to have a VERY different look.

Don’t get too disheartened though, think of this as a natural correction. Things got way out of hand especially in Formula 1. It’s time for a bit of restructuring before we head into the eco era.

Some good news:

Acura is still moving up to P1 in ALMS as well as running a couple of P2 cars.

– BMW will have a new GT2 car in ALMS which will be run by Rahal/Letterman. A group of BMW’s WTCC drivers have been out at Road Atlanta developing it.

– Audi will have their new R8 GT car out. I saw it marked as a GT3 but I’m sure I’ve seen word of it going into GT2.

More independent/privateer cars entering touring cars and world rally. This is a mixed blessing. Sometimes these teams and/or drivers are delusional no-hopers making up the numbers, yet sometimes it allows an underfunded but otherwise excellent team to take part and prove themselves. I like those guys, I always root for them.

– Honda’s F1 woes will not affect their IndyCar, MotoGP, ALMS interests or any other racing activity.

– IRL will seemingly still get 24+ cars at each round.

We still have shitloads of racing – Too Much Racing for one person to follow, and long may it be so.

Again, let me know of any more good news in the comments.

Sorry for not posting on Friday as promised.